New WordPress Blogs: 12 Steps to Set Up for Success
WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms because of its flexibility, features, and its search engine-friendly structure. However, in order to get the most out of WordPress there are several actions that new bloggers should complete. Some are SEO-related, some are time savers, and others will help you to reach a larger audience.
1 – Activate Akismet
All new WordPress installations automatically include the Akismet plugin to prevent spam comments. There is a reason WordPress now includes Akismet with all installations – it is highly effective at stopping spam without blocking legitimate comments. Akismet is a huge time saver that helps your blog to maintain a professional appearance that is free of spam.
To activate Akismet, login to your WordPress blog and from the dashboard click on “Plugins.” You will see Akismet listed, and click on the Activation link. You will then get a message that you need to enter an API Key for Akismet to be activated. If you have an API Key you can enter it when prompted. If you do not have an API Key yet you can get one at http://wordpress.com/api-keys/.
2 – Choose a URL Structure
By default, WordPress creates pages that have “ugly” URLs that are not search engine-friendly. These URLs contain characters like question marks and they contain no valuable key words. Fortunately, WordPress gives users the option to customize their URL structure.
Our choice for URL structure includes the category that the post is affiliated with, and the title of the post. By using the category you will get strong keywords into the URL. For example, if you are writing a post about an SEO-related topic, SEO will be in the URL if it is assigned as the category of the post. The title of the post is also likely to contain key words and phrases.
To change the URL structure, go to “Options” and then “Permalinks” from the WordPress dashboard. WordPress will give you a few choices, including the option to customize your own URL structure. For this blog we use the custom option with the following code:
It is best to set your URL structure when you first start your blog, as changing it down the road can cause problems resulting in dead links.
3 – Change the Default Page Title
Effective page titles are critical to having a blog or website that ranks well in the search engines. The default title of pages created by WordPress can be improved upon. Many bloggers choose to use the name of the blog and the name of the post in the title, which helps to get some valuable, targeted keywords into the title.
Changing the structure of the page title is not something that can be done from the dashboard like changing the URL structure, but it is not difficult. The title is contained in the header.php file of whatever theme you are using. To change the title, open header.php and replace the code between the opening and closing title tags. The code that we use for this blog is
Other ideas for page titles can be found at Geek Notes.
4 – Add a Subscription Request to single.php
The single.php file controls the page layout when a visitor is on a page that contains one post. Subscribers are crucial to developing a successful blog, so efforts should be made to maximize the number of subscribers you receive.
An effective way to gain subscribers is to include a short reminder for readers to subscribe to your RSS feed. For most WordPress themes this can be added directly before the post meta data (where the comments are located). Many bloggers place widgets here to add the feed to an RSS reader or to submit the page to a social media site (AddThis is a popular option, and the Sociable plugin accomplishes the same thing).
5 – Add Your Feed Subscription Link Prominently
As soon as a visitor comes to your blog, he or she should quickly see the link to subscribe to your RSS feed. Many blogs accomplish this by placing the common RSS icon at the top of the sidebar. The reader should not have to scroll down the page to see the icon or the link. Having the icon and link near the top of the page and having the reminder at the end of each post (as mentioned earlier) will give you the best opportunity to maximize the number of subscribers you receive.
Some themes will come with an RSS subscription option already located at the top of the sidebar. However, if you are using a theme that does not provide this, it can easily be added to sidebar.php by simply adding the text that you want to use and linking it to your feed.
6 – Sign up for FeedBurner
Every WordPress blog automatically creates an RSS feed. FeedBurner is a free service that will host your feed, provide basic stats and give your readers some additional options with your feed. FeedBurner is a well-recognized service that will also make it easier for your readers to subscribe in their RSS reader of choice.
Being able to track the number of subscribers you have, and how many of them are clicking through to your site are two important pieces of information that you must have to do proper analytical work. FeedBurner’s other options will help you to get the most our of your feed by allowing you to customize many options, like an “email this” and “add to del.icio.us” links at the end of your posts.
7 – Offer an Email Subscription Option
Some of your visitors will prefer to subscribe to your blog via email instead of RSS. If you are not offering email subscriptions you are losing potential subscribers. FeedBurner offers this service for free to its users, and they even produce the code for your sign up form. All you have to do is activate the email subscription option and place the code that they provide on your blog. Any posts that you make on your blog in a given day will be emailed to your subscribers. There’s no email for you to send, and no need to manage the mailing list.
8 – Claim Your Blog at Technorati
Technorati is one of the most widely used blogging resources. It is a search engine and tracking system that specializes in blogs (among other things). First you will need to create a free account. Once your account has been created you can add some information about yourself and your blog. To claim your blog, while you are logged in click on the “Blogs” tab. There you will have the option to enter the URL of your blog to claim it. Technorati provides information like the number of incoming links to a particular blog, and this information is widely used to judge the reach that a blog has. If you plan on selling advertisements you should pay close attention to your Technorati numbers.
9 – Add an About Page
Blog readers are interested in knowing more about you, the writer. Creating a page with some information about yourself is a great way to help your readers to get to know you. Part of developing loyal readers is connecting with them. WordPress allows you to create pages, in addition to blog posts. From the dashboard go to “Manage” and select “Pages.” You should now see the option to edit an About page. WordPress makes it very easy to create this page right from your dashboard.
10 – Add a Contact Form for Your Readers to Reach You
Your About page is a good place to let your readers send you their feedback. Every website or blog should provide a way for readers to communicate with the owner of the site. The PXS plugin is the most common way for WordPress users to add this functionality.
11 – Address Duplicate Content Issues
Duplicate content can be major challenge for blogs and search engine traffic. Blogs by their nature create duplicate content on category and date archives, as well as on the blog home page. Search engines, especially Google, go to great lengths to keep duplicate content out of the search results, which means less traffic for you if they think your pages are repeating the same content. This issue is much too large to cover in depth here (for additional reading see the Google Webmaster Central Blog, SEOResearcher.com, and SEOmoz) but there are a few simple things that you can do to lower the risk of having your pages flagged as duplicates.
First, set your archive pages to show only excerpts rather than entire posts. By using excerpts the search engines see only a few lines of a blog post on the archive page rather than seeing entire posts that are duplicates of the individual blog post pages. The process of changing your blog’s template to show only excerpts is explained by Lorelle, a WordPress expert.
Creating a robots.txt file can also help eliminate duplicate content by telling the search engine robots which pages to index and which ones to ignore. With the robots.txt file you gain some control over which pages will get more attention from search engines. More information about the robots.txt file can be found at Not So Boring Life.
Chris Garrett also covers duplicate content and gives a relatively simple solution for dealing with duplicate content by adding a piece of code in the header.php file.
Another choice is the Duplicate Content plugin. The downside that I see to this plugin is that it prevents search engines from indexing category pages, which can sometimes be very relevant, keyword-rich pages.
12 – Submit to Blog and RSS Directories
Once your blog has been created it’s time to start promoting it. The first thing to do is submit your blog/feed to the many directories that specializes in blogs and RSS Feeds. These will give you some exposure to readers who are searching for blogs in your industry and they will also give you some valuable inbound links to help your search engine rankings. Lists of blog directories and RSS directories can be found at our website.
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